Judy Schwank

Judy Schwank

The coronavirus epidemic has sparked a flurry of concerns ranging from fears of economic distress to health issues.

“We are experiencing a loss of normalcy, a loss of our daily routines, our economic security and social connectedness,” said Dr. Timothy Ring, an American Red Cross disaster relief specialist, who practices at Berkshire Psychiatric & Behavioral Health Services.

Ring and three medical professionals from Penn State Health St. Joseph hospital, were the guests of state Sen. Judy Schwank during a telephone town hall Monday night.

Schwank, a Ruscombmanor Township Democrat, who represents the 11th District, and her guests provided updates on COVID-19 related topics and answered questions from constituents.

The impact of the COVID-19 outbreak has put more than a million Pennsylvanians out of work, Schwank said, noting about 1.3 million unemployment compensation claims have been filed to date.

“At least 20% of the workforce has applied,” she said.

With so many claims flooding the system, some are wondering how long it will take before they receive a payment.

Schwank said she spoke to the state secretary of labor.

“It could be two weeks before someone receives a response,” she said. “I realize people need money now, but keep in mind that benefits will be back paid to the time of application.”

In answer to a question regarding applying for unemployment assistance for independent contractors, Schwank said the federal guidelines were released last week and the state program is still in the development stage.

“It will probably be about two weeks before the program will be up and running and the application will be available,” she said, noting there was no precedent for the newly designed program.

Part of the difficulty in grappling with the effects of COVID-19 is the lack of precedent, Ring said.

“This is largely dealing with an unknown,” he said.

With a natural disaster or well-known virus, such as influenza, there is a level of understanding and response already in place, he said.

“We don’t know how this virus reacts,” Ring said. “The natural response is anticipatory grief, a fancy name for anxiety. Our minds are preparing us for the unknown scenario, and we play those scenes over and over to prepare for the worst results, and that just causes more anxiety.”

The normal response to such a situation, he said is to go through the five phases grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

“Our first thoughts are denial,” he said. “This can’t be happening to us. Eventually, we get angry about some of the constraints put on our lifestyle. How dare the government step in and put restrictions on how we move?”

Eventually, people will move through all the stages, Ring said.

“We could add a sixth stage, ‘meaning,’” he said. “What does all this mean and what will it mean in the future?”

The answer might be that different ways of communicating or newer technology may become familiar and could lead to more connectedness or collaboration, he said.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Ring said. “Let go of things that are out of your control. Take control of things that you do have control over.” 

Dealing with the virus has been a novel experience for the community and hospital staff, said Dr. Jeffrey Held, vice president of medical affairs for St. Joseph.

“Therapies and protocol change almost weekly,” he said.

The hospital has set up drills for the proper donning and doffing of personal protective equipment, or PPE, he said.

“You want to make sure you put it on properly,” Held said, “and when you take it off you won’t want to grab an area that has been exposed.”

John R. Morahan, president of St. Joseph thanked the community for supporting the hospital’s staff, including medical professionals and those in food service, maintenance and other departments.

The hospital has been set up as it would be for a natural disaster, he said, with a command center with the hospital’s emergency preparedness coordinator in command.

Morahan answered a question from a caller concerned about contracting COVID-19 from the mail or a newspaper delivered to a house.

Morahan assured the public that St. Joseph Hospital is adequately prepared to treat and manage COVID-19 and other patients.

“Our first priority is the safety of patients and their families,” said Sharon Strohecker, vice president of clinical services and chief nursing officer at St. Joseph.

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